Happy New Year

By: Jazmine Moore

Me (in the blue scarf in the front row) with my City Year  friends just before the break.

Me (in the blue scarf in the front row) with my City Year friends just before the break.

As the holiday season has passed and schools are becoming filled with students, I can’t help but remain excited. I am excited for a new semester, excited to have finished a strong semester, and excited for the future. I came back from seeing family and friends refreshed, relaxed, and FIRED UP!

The holiday break could not have come at a better time, students were tired, faculty were tired, and we as Corps members were tired. This past semester had been challenging and exhausting but every bit rewarding and inspiring. We have built strong lasting relationships with students, we have grown professionally with faculty, and we have bonded as a team.

As I enjoyed this much deserved break I thought of my team, my partner teachers, and my students and especially missed them. I contemplated how I can be a better Corps member in the new year and came back recharged, reenergized, and excited for a new semester.

With the holidays in the past and a new year beginning take the time to reflect on your experiences these last few months. Take the time to reflect on your purpose, the people you touch, and the impact you make everyday and use that experience to recharge, become ready and be excited! Warm wishes and Happy New Years!

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Unlocking Potential

By: Chelsea Montes de Oca

Courtneys Photo

When I think back to my favorite teachers as a kid, many who stick out were ones who incorporated creative expression into their lessons. The ones who let us make movies, perform skits, write songs and find a way to incorporate it into those “notoriously boring” classes like Science or English. One of my favorite projects in high school was being able to write and illustrate a children’s story book in a Marine Biology class. I learned from experiences like that more than I ever did exploring a textbook.

I noticed many things about the public school system when I first started working at an inner city school. Students seemed to be doing way more standardized testing than I ever remember as a kid.Teachers frequently had to teach in a very specific way because of those tests. Many of my students had electives like reading essentials or math tutoring instead of art or music. This is not to say that creative lesson planning wasn’t happening or that artistic electives weren’t being offered.But in a system that in some ways values core content achievement over unique expression, arts programs sometimes suffer. The beauty of City Year is that it can fill that void. A part of our job is to find those specific and unique ways individual students learn. We get to know our students on a personal level so that when they don’t understand a lesson, we can creatively adapt it and teach to them.

One of my favorite parts of being a first year Corps member last year was when I had the opportunity to run a photography club after school. I’ve loved photography since I was in middle school and it was a joy to share that passion with my students. My goal for the club was to teach technical skills while also displaying photography as a form of artistic expression. The club was an overall success and my students learned a lot. I didn’t see the true impact I had until I read a note I received on the last day of school. The note read: “Dear Ms. Chelsea, You taught me in my English class but I was also in your photography club. You taught me how to take a great picture and now I’m in love with creative art. I know I am going to miss you a lot”.

It dawned on me that what kept me in school as a kid were opportunities for creative art. They were just as important because they inspired me to continue working towards a greater goal. It was humbling to realize my photo club helped a student realize a path that they may not have been shown to them before.

Social Justice in Service

By: Jasmine Kyles

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When supporting a middle school classroom it’s not unusual to have students who are off-task. One of my daily challenges is getting my 6th grade student (we’ll call him Clark) to participate in activities with his math class. I find that he is sometimes off-task due to his recent re-integration into regular education classes. His way of learning concepts is a little different from most because he’s not used to the traditional classroom structure.

Clark finds it difficult to grasp concepts when multi-step instructions are given to the entire class. My role with Clark is to motivate and engage him when he feels over-stimulated. For example, when the teacher instructs the class to open their books and begin working on an assignment, I walk to Clark’s desk and make sure he has a pencil, paper, and book opened to the correct page. This offers Clark the one-on-one supplemental support that he is used to receiving in special education courses.

Some days Clark is unresponsive to my one-on-one instructions and chooses to do nothing. I don’t let it discourage me, however, or get in the way of providing him with the service he deserves. As a strategy, a few weeks ago I began greeting Clark with comments like “Hello, my successful student” or “You’re going to be great today.” At first, Clark seemed agitated by these phrases, and I assume it is because he wasn’t used to hearing them. Most recently I’ve seen him become excited when I recognize him for what I know he is capable of accomplishing in the future.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story, but at City Year one of our values is ‘Social Justice for All.’ In our service we work with many types of students, and there is no one education plan that works for everyone. Meeting each child where they learn provides them the greatest chance at academic success. I see this year, my City Year, as an opportunity to make strides towards a more equitable and fair society for all who seek an education.

My Service to America

By: Alison Bell

 

Enlist. Commit. Travel.
Basic Training Academy.
Physical Training.
Mental Training.
Assignment.
Go.
War.
Battles: victories and losses.
Temporary returns.
Battles: victories and losses.
End.
Changed life.
Graduation.

My service to America is not with guns but with words.
My service to America is not overseas but here on the front lines.
My service to America is not forcing change but inspiring change.

I serve my country for 50+ hours a week by spending time with its future, 
sharpening its academic and social skills, its IQ and EQ, 
and empowering it be all it could ever want to be and more.

My name is Alison, and I serve my country at a turn-around elementary school in Colorado.
Though my service is unseen and undervalued at large,
I am a part of a growing movement of young people who aspire to change the world through voluntary national service.

This is my service to America.

(*note: This is written not to devalue the military or any other service in any way but to show another side of service that the country at large is unaware of.)

Being Grateful to Serve

By: Ryan Ogi

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It may seem odd to hear someone say they are “grateful to serve.” Service – it seems – is often seen as a “means to an end,” where individuals volunteer either to relieve some form of guilt or to make themselves look better on a resume. To me, service isn’t a means to an end. Rather, service is a privilege that allows me to pass on the knowledge and experiences I have to others; a privilege to give back to the community I came from. When I look at my service with City Year thus far, there are so many experiences already that I am grateful for.

One such experience was with an 8th grade student we’ll call “E.” For several of the Corps Members at Trevista, E has been a student we have been trying to get on track, trying to get his grades up and making sure he shows up to school. Throughout the past few months, E has turned his game around. Though he started the year by showing up to school tardy, ditching class, and (especially) forgetting his uniform, he has greatly improved. Every day this past month, he has worn his uniform to school, and this past week, E was at school on time FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK! E’s motivation has been simple – he has a newborn sister and a desire to attend college in California.

E revealed to me his desire to attend college just this past week at the end of an extended learning opportunity. E was particularly concerned with how he was going to reach his college goal as we talked about the future and the value of a college education. We spoke for over 15 minutes about the ways he could work towards achieving his goal of attending college, and after our conversation, his eyes brightened up like I had never seen before. It seemed that the confidence and drive within E had sparked anew.

Such experiences, like this one with E, are why I am grateful to serve with City Year. It’s not just the act of helping students that I am grateful for – it is the spark that I see in students when they understand a concept, when they see that the path to their future is bright and that the other Corps Members and I are there to help them make that future a reality. I am grateful to serve students like E because they are the future. I am grateful to be a part of shaping the future. Only by each serving in our own way can we collectively change the world. . That is why I am grateful to serve.

Belief in the Power of Young People

By: Allie Broas
Trevista Corps Member

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One of City Year’s ten core values is the belief in the power of young people. Before a few weeks ago, I attributed that power solely to corps members and the power we have as young and idealistic movers and shakers. What I have realized, however, is that such power lies equally in the hands of the students we work with every day. The power they wield is unlike any we corps members seem to have. They can effortlessly transform me back into a twelve-year-old girl as I stand in the hallway desperately seeking their approval in the form of head nods and high fives. They can, for a moment, make me forget my red jacket as I engage in a woodchip-throwing war with a group of sixth grade boys. They can surprise me, infuriate me, and tug on my heartstrings in a way I never thought any person could. When I look at the faces of fellow corps members, I see a group of beautiful, motivated, extraordinarily talented young people who find themselves regularly engaged in conversations about next steps, career paths, and the ways in which we can better the world. But, when I look at my kids, I see the untapped desire to overcome the barriers and obstacles that have so unfairly been placed before them.

One student in particular comes to mind as symbol of this desire – we’ll call him Tom. Tom is in eighth grade, although he acts as if he’s older than me, and he has an incredible amount of power and influence at our school. With the nod of his head, he can send younger girls into hysteria, and he routinely laments over the challenge of monogamy at his age. He breaks the rules often but apologizes with such grace that you forget the rule he broke in the first place. Because of his behavior, it’s can be easy to forget you’re dealing with a thirteen-year-old.

When Tom first sat down at my table for our afternoon language instruction group, I thought I smelled trouble. And perhaps there was a lingering scent of mischief that sat down that day with Tom, but what I soon came to realize was that, despite his protests, Tom is one of those students who wants to use his power for good. He all but refuses to do his work, and he makes it his job to get everyone else to do their work. He’s a regular in detention but will do whatever he can to ensure that his younger cousin stays out of trouble. He’s modest about his successes but is the first to champion the success of those around him.

Tom says he doesn’t want to and will not graduate from high school, no matter what I say or do. And although I work every day to make sure that he does, I don’t devalue Tom or his power because of his decisions. His plan to dropout has gone long uncontested, and I realize that it isn’t within my power to change something overnight that is so established. What I can do instead is gradually change the culture of expectations for Tom and his classmates.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned that my power as a young person is not simply to better the world but to better the world through nurturing the power of the students I work with. In six months, my fellow corps member and I will have graduated from City Year and most of us will move on to exciting, new adventures. Our transience at these schools forces us to work hard to leave our students with the belief that they can not only overcome these barriers but serve as leaders to others to fundamentally change the world in which they live.

“P-O-W-E-R we’ve got the power!”

By: Morgan Seckinger

Corps members "power greeting" students as they arrive at school.

Corps members “power greeting” students as they arrive at school.

“P-O-W-E-R we’ve got the power!” Every morning this is the start of a chant that Bruce Randolph students hear as they walk through the front doors of the school. Ten Corps members bundled in layers of red are jumping around trying to stay warm for the ritual we call Morning Greeting.

Morning Greeting is easily one of my favorite culture pieces and has been since the start of our service. It engages students at the very beginning of their day and whether they want to show it or not, it pumps them up. This City Year tradition looks different school to school and the format typically depends on what the team and administration feels would be most effective for their particular school climate and culture. At Bruce Randolph morning greeting is filled with loud chants, silly dance moves and tons of high fives. Each member of my team brings something unique to our morning greeting and we do our best to take ownership of the tradition and make it our own.

At first, I was skeptical about students even paying attention to us; middle schoolers could win a poker face competition any day of the week. But after a few weeks of being outside every morning at 7:15 am sharp, the students now not only say hello but a few regularly join in! One student in particular jumps at the opportunity to show off his dance moves at the end of “POWER”. It’s so amazing to see a student completely carefree first thing in the morning, dancing around outside the school with a bunch of idealists in red jackets.

Even though we work primarily with the middle school students, morning greeting has taken a hold at the high school level as well. It’s the perfect way to blend our service into the whole school and has really started to make connections between my team and the older students. Now that I’m supporting a tenth grade civics class the students are asking me about morning greeting before they even begin the warm up. One morning in particular my team hadn’t been outside; we decided to mingle with students in the atrium because the temperatures were so low. Sure enough, as soon as I walked into second period a tenth grader asked me, “Miss why weren’t you guys outside today? We didn’t see the red jackets”. That was my solid clue that these students recognize what we do every day and hold us accountable. I can’t wait to see what the rest of our service year looks like and I know that these students will continue to make a difference in our lives as well.

Sweat the small stuff

By: Chelsea Montes de Oca

I truly believe middle school is probably the most awkward period anyone will have in their life. Whether you are reading this article four years out of middle school or 40, I think we all sometimes forget that — and with good reason too. I made it a point in my adult life to block out the embarrassing moments of that time. That time when my crush told me my jacket was ugly in front of all of our friends and I cried in the bathroom for an entire period. Or avoiding the sixth grade stairwell for over a month because I somehow managed to fall going UP the stairs in front of the “cool” group of kids. Okay, clearly I was clumsy, but don’t act like you haven’t done it at least once too.

When I met the students that would inevitably drive my next two years of service, one of the first thoughts I had was “wow, these kids are so dramatic.” One of my students spent the entire hour of our school’s dance crying in the back of the gym because her boyfriend couldn’t come. Another student’s toy ball was stolen, which then rendered him so angry that he stormed out of the class and would not attempt his class work that day. My initial approach to all this was, in a nice way, to basically tell the kids to get over it. That there were much more important things to worry about and they couldn’t let the small stuff debilitate them. I kept this outlook until one day, an event forced me to change my perspective. It was the day that a threat of gun violence on school grounds tested the community our team was trying so hard to build for our students.

I walked the halls the next day expecting outward displays of anger, sadness and fear. The reality was a quiet form of internal chaos. The most disturbing interactions were ones with students who claimed events like these as normal. These did not look like the same kids I saw getting frustrated over their stolen pencils just the day prior. It brought me back to my over-dramatic, middle-school self. I had been gifted with good influences in my childhood who taught me how to cope and who were there to guide me through those challenging events I was too young to understand. I realized some of my students may not have been afforded that luxury.

I learned that day, more than ever, that “Getting over it” is not coping. It is a way to bury an issue until it creates so much pressure that you explode. I had good intentions but I realized I hadn’t been teaching my students how to cope. I had been teaching them how to bury. I became so focused on getting them caught up academically that I unintentionally disregarded a just as important piece of classroom success: life skills. My attitude shifted and so did my conversations with students. We talked about tactics for talking yourself down from frustrations. We talked about ways to be even a little productive in spite of having a really bad day. I never understood just how much weight all the small stuff can add up to. So I started sweating the small stuff with my students and it has made all the difference in my service.

Living the City Year Pledge

By: Jasmine Kyles, Corps Member at Bruce Randolph School

The first day of school surrounded by my teammates at Bruce Randolph School.

The first day of school surrounded by my teammates at Bruce Randolph School.

Each year, as a new group of Corps members take on the task of completing over 1700 hours of service, we prepare our hearts and minds by memorizing the City Year Pledge and reciting it as an entire Corps on Opening Day. The pledge gives a hint of where we are going and how we can serve the schools and communities we’ll see over a 10-month period.

After four weeks of preparation, and with the pledge in the back of my mind, the first day of school finally came! I don’t remember sleeping one bit the night before school started because I was so excited to see what my service year would look like everyday. Here’s how the day went:

First Circle came and went, then my team hit the ground running with Morning Greeting, participating in the opening rally for our middle school students. Then it was off to classes. Immediately we were called to complete a task that we didn’t know was needed until the moment it was asked of us. My teammate Aaron volunteered to be our school mascot, “the Grizzly,” as you can see in the picture above. “Mascotness” was definitely not something we were trained on but we are learning that each week presents a new challenge, and it truly takes work “to be quick to help and slow to judge.”

The weeks are rolling by and we are about a third of the way through our service year. Things are still changing, but we’ve learned that to create the best results, we need to go along without complaining . No one said CY would be easy; they just promised that it would be rewarding, and so far I can say we are making our time count. There isn’t always a clear way for us to be recognized or praised for our daily accomplishments but when we aren’t present the students notice and it makes all the difference.

Every day I wake up, far too early for a body that is still used to waking up for 11am college classes, but I put a smile on because I know there will be at least one smiling face ready to give me a high five and say “Good morning, Ms. Jasmine!” Whether the day is unexpected or challenging, I believe we are building “a stronger community, nation, and world for all of us,” one student at a time.

Special State Champions

By:Jazmin Moore
Corps Member, North High School
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“Miss, can we have practice today? Miss, when is our next game?” These are questions I hear consistently from my players. I have the privilege this year to co-coach the Special Olympics Unified Flag Football team along with some of my fellow City Year corps members serving at North High School.

A couple of weekends ago we went to the State Tournament to compete with other unified teams across Colorado and had the best time. It was one of the most rewarding and adorable experiences that I have had thus far in City Year! I must admit, coaching football is not something that someone like me could normally brag about! I am 4’11”, 100 pounds, and, although I’m southern, my football knowledge is very limited. Two games into the tournament, I realized that it wasn’t about coaching — it was about my presence. My players just needed me to be there, to give them encouragement, to congratulate them when they score or make an awesome pass, and to lift them up when they are down. I stood on the sidelines cheering on my team, and at the end of the tournament, we had won all of our games!

“The state champions are: North High School Vikings!” announced the Special Olympics representative. Each player was awarded a medal while being recognized by family and peers alike. I couldn’t have been more proud of this group of boys and what they had accomplished. I now know that this was only the beginning for these boys, and I know that their success will continue while we cheer them on, providing support in and out of the classroom. Congratulations to my team, and go Vikings!!